Very few performers have been able to achieve the cold, lascivious evil that Jeanette Nolan is able to generate in the classic 1953 noir The Big Heat. As Bertha Duncan, the conniving wife of a corrupt police official, this distinguished performer uses steely silence and manipulative tears to ensure her character’s chance at a life of wealth and opulence. An unmoving witness to suicide and murder, Duncan is ultimately one of the iciest dames ever to be featured in dark crime cinema, a testament to Nolan’s sophisticated skills.
Not surprisingly, Nolan’s first major onscreen role was Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ adaptation of the classic Shakespearean piece Macbeth. Her work in The Big Heat, though subtle, definitely carries shades of the poetically operatic, earning herself the distinction of being one of the finest actresses who has ever committed herself to the celluloid art form.
Horror Hall of Fame:
Nolan’s long lasting career included many genre credits. She brought a vibrant glow to 1966’s Chamber of Horrors and a similar spark along with a parade of outrageous hair pieces to 1965’s My Blood Runs Cold(pictured). She added a bit more serious contemplation to such television anthology series as The Twilight Zone, Thriller and Circle of Fear, as well.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!
She played feisty yet loyal lovers in a series of ‘50s action and adventure pieces like Yankee Pasha and Gunfight at O.K. Corral. Bob Hope also called upon her extravagant sense of humor in such projects as The Great Loverand Alias Jesse James. Her lush looks and rare beauty worked for her in other ways as well, giving the glorious Rhonda Fleming a delightfully tangible way to embody perfect visions of calculating evil.
Eschewing her initial naivete – she and her mother had to look up what a nymphomaniac was when she was cast in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound – Fleming brought vivid life to a number of noir vixens. 1953’s Inferno capitalized on the 3D phase while also giving her the excuse to bring what was possibly her most evil character to the celluloid universe. As Geraldine Carson, this red headed goddess viciously plots to murder her husband, played with gruff humanity by eternally sympathetic tough guy Robert Ryan. Thus, her dry and dusty downfall here was relished by movie lovers everywhere.
The suave Efrem Zimbalist Jr. also was dealt a calculating blow when dealing with Fleming’s adulterous Cheryl Heath in The Crowded Sky. As a pilot facing a deadly incident, as this film is a precursor to the all star disaster films of the ‘70s, Zimbalist’s character also must deal with the emotional fallout of Cheryl’s heartless manipulations. Viewers, therefore, are not surprised when the film’s fadeout reveals his intents to leave her behind, no matter Fleming’s seemingly irresistible devious lusciousness.
Horror Hall of Fame:
Besides her compelling work with Hitchcock in Spellbound, Fleming brought a steady heart and calm demeanor to her portrayal of the loyal yet doomed Blanche in 1946’s gothic horror The Spiral Staircase.
Folks, just listen to Bette Davis. Okay? She’s lived and she knows a lot of shit and she really means it when she tells you to go away! There’s a reason at work there.
Of course, if Sian Barbara Allen’s determined Peggy had listened to Davis’ abrupt Mrs. Elliot in the 1973 ABC Suspense Movie Scream, Pretty Peggy, we would have lost about 60 minutes of film time…and that ridiculous ending carved from the static of Robert Bloch’s mind would have been lost forever, as well! So there is that to say for not listening to a wise traveler’s advice.
Indeed, this creepy mansion based time warp, bred from the same cloth as William Castle’s Homicidal and Bloch’s Psycho, may not fly, politically, today. But Allen offers a very determined heroine and while the character’s reckless stupidity is paramount, the enthusiasm with which the actress attacks the role almost verges on making Peggy a feministic heroine. Doubtless, this character’s strong willed nature was surely what drew this busy actress, who also enacted the rites of fear in the psycho-chiller You’ll Like My Mother, to the role. Well, that and the pay check, of course!
Moodily directed by Gordon Hessler (Scream and Scream Again, The Oblong Box, Cry of the Banshee), this sadistic potboiler, focusing on Peggy playing housekeeper to a distinguished yet mysterious artist and his secretive family, is obvious enhanced by Davis’ presence. But eagle eyed partiers will also recognize Tovah Feldshuh (as the first victim here) and Claude Rains’ daughter Jessica as an snarky employment agency worker.
Readily available on YouTube, this twist back in time is definitely worth a rainy afternoon (or morning) of any happy nostalgia buff’s time.
Until the next offering, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!
Some people may appreciate 1978’s The Boys from Brazilfor its mad scientist Frankenstein-ian themes. Those who feel revulsion for the Three Men and a Baby films may enjoy this dark conspiratorial yarn for its swift deposal of Steve Guttenberg’s nosy do-gooder in the opening sequence. Musical theater buffs meanwhile might dive into this horror hybrid because one of its main themes, We’re Home Again, was sung by Elaine Paige, one of the multi-talented, undisputed queens of the ever glittering boards.
Paige has won countless awards for her work on shows like Evita, Cats and Anything Goes. Along with Barbara Dickson, she also introduced the pop world to I Know Him So Well, a powerhouse duet from Chess, co-written by Tim Rice and Abba’s Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus.
I sometimes forget who I’m talking to in the middle of a conversation. U-m-m…sorry, mom!
Thankfully, Keegan Dark, the enigmatic hero of Jody Wheeler’s recent thriller The Dark Place, doesn’t have that problem. His ability to conjure up images of his life, within the texture of video-like flashbacks, helps save him when his mother mysteriously falls into a coma and he, ultimately, becomes the primary suspect.
Wheeler’s script, here, reads like a Lifetime Television mystery (which isn’t a bad thing in my book) only with a handsome male as the primary focus as opposed to a woman. He provides some nice twists and, as a director, he keeps events moving at a snappy pace, as well.
The production, also, benefits immensely from the presence of Blaise Embry as Keegan. Embry engages even in Keegan’s more petulant moments and he allows a subtle layer of subdued hurt to emerge in the film’s quieter sequences, as well. Fine assistance appears in the forms of Timo Descamps and Shannon Day as Keegan’s boyfriend Will and his estranged mother Celeste, too. Those portraying the characters with (possibly) more mysterious agendas are fine, as well, if somewhat lacking in the necessary edge to make their more sinister actions totally believable.
Still, for those who are tired of gay thrillers that revolve around issues of hatred and oppression (such as 2005’s fine Hate Crime and 2011’s luridly fun Into the Lion’s Den), The Dark Place is an intriguing, sometimes very imaginative place to visit.
Formula is good for babies and genre fans, but eventually we all outgrow it. While, current (very successful) cheese fest The Boy Next Door does offer some nice reverse fetishism with hunky Ryan Guzman being the prime target of the film’s voyeuristic gaze, it also provides an expected trope (along with its deliriously fun plot holes and frequently unbelievable circumstances) that probably needs to change. Like many thrillers before it, including such offerings as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The Juror and this fall’s No Good Deed, Claire, the beleaguered heroine of The Boy Next Door, has a sassy best friend (spoiler alert!) who meets an unfortunate end at the hands of the film’s twisted villain. Here, just like the ladies in the previous flicks, this friend, a high school vice principal played with sarcastic warmth by Kristin Chenoweth, is successful, highly sexual and single. Just like the heroines in the other features, this is the complete opposite of Claire (Jennifer Lopez), a mother whom, despite expected flaws and one questionable mistake, is truly struggling to come to grips with her seemingly shattered family life. While this devise does have some practical purposes, including presenting an extreme sense of emotional resolve for the primary victim, one has to wonder what kind of picture this actually paints. A moment’s contemplation produces the thought that the creators of these vehicles, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are telling us that any woman who doesn’t want a traditional family unit, who wants to thoroughly explore her sexuality and thumb her nose at the patriarchy by having a profitable career, deserves to die. This notion comes off as especially grievous in the case of Someone’s Watching Me, a 1978 John Carpenter directed television film, in which the wise cracking bestie is, also, a lesbian, played with forthright dignity by genre icon Adrienne Barbeau. (Interestingly, Guzman’s habitual nakedness along with the combined presences of Chenoweth, an acclaimed Broadway performer, and Lopez, a fashion icon and diva with multiple club hits, seemingly nods in the direction of The Boy Next Door achieving a healthy gay following, something the producers, in a progressive moment, must have seemingly intended.) Granted, when all is said and done, the murder of the vibrant companion is such an established element now, that some audience members may feel let down if it doesn’t occur. But, in all honesty, it couldn’t be too hard to change the demographics of said character to something less predictable and less, dare I say it, offensive. Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan! http://www.facebook.com/biggayhorrorfan